An analysis with an emphasis on the support provided by Japan and Japanese people over the last twenty years.
The Afghanistan administration collapsed before the withdrawal of the US troops was complete, with the Taliban taking control of the capital Kabul on 15 August 2021.
The invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in 1979 lasted for ten years and resulted in a high death toll, devastating the country’s economic and social infrastructure and creating a large number of refugees. Following the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the collapse of the Taliban administration, the international community was committed to assisting in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Japan has donated 704.9 billion yen to date, which has funded public and private sector initiatives for reconstruction and sustainable development in areas such as education and health care, placing emphasis on supporting agriculture, building infrastructure, and developing human resources.
The central pillar of the support package provided by the Japanese government has been to enhance Afghanistan’s own capacity to maintain public order, to reintegrate the approximately 60,000 former Taliban soldiers into society, and to assist Afghanistan to achieve independent and sustainable development.
The International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan (Tokyo Conference), held in Tokyo in January 2002, promoted the reintegration of former soldiers through the “disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration” (DDR) program. Through this program, 276,000 weapons were recovered and 737 Disbandments of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) accomplished. The program ended in 2006, and in May that year, the then Foreign Minister Kawaguchi Yoriko visited Afghanistan and announced the “Consolidation of Peace” initiative, stating that the “peace process,” “domestic security” and “reconstruction and humanitarian assistance” form three essential pillars for the building and maintenance of peace in Afghanistan.
JICA, as the organization responsible for the provision of Japanese government assistance, has implemented more than 140 Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects. These include development of small-scale irrigation facilities and rural roads in the suburbs of Kabul; support for rice cultivation in Nangarhar and eight other provinces; development of locally adapted wheat varieties and training of human resources to develop improved varieties of wheat; institutional strengthening of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; and construction of power generation facilities, upgrading of major and local roads, and airport renovations.
Other projects have focused on changing the situation of women in Afghanistan, who have been placed in difficult circumstances under the protracted conflict and the Taliban administration. In order to fulfil the spirit of the new constitution, which stipulates “The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law,” JICA has continued to support policy recommendations on the improvement of women’s social status and to support women’s economic independence through the dispatch of experts from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Subsequent to the support activities undertaken by NGOs, many of them privately operated, in the humanitarian, reconstruction, and international exchange sectors in June 2012, Doshisha University (Kyoto) hosted the first official international meeting between Taliban delegates and officials of the Afghanistan government since the fall of the Taliban administration, a landmark event. The meeting was held in Tokyo on 8 July 2012, and was attended by 55 countries, 25 international organizations and many cabinet-level officials including Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The meeting sent a strategic message that 2015–2024 would be the “Transformation Decade” during which the international community would assist in development efforts to support Afghanistan’s independence. However, the unstable security situation due to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan continued to obstruct efforts to deliver support, with only half the available funds of 160 billion yen for the four years until 2020 being used.
In February 2020, the United States reached a peace agreement with the Taliban, and sought talks for a permanent ceasefire from September of that year. However, the conflict did not subside.
In November 2020, at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference in Geneva, attended by more than 80 countries and international agencies, Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu announced a support package of some 75 billion yen for the period 2021–2024, adding “with progress in the peace process, we are ready to consider additional support.”
At the Conference, Motegi called on all the concerned parties for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, stressing that, “we strongly hope that the negotiations will lead to sustainable peace, and ensure the achievements of the nation-building in the past nineteen years.”
However, Kabul has fallen. Although Afghanistan has relied heavily on aid for its national budget, it is a society of diverse ethnic groups and tribal affiliations and has never been a unified state under a central government. If Japan and the wider international community has provided assistance to Afghanistan without having fully understood its history and sociocultural context, it must be questioned how successful this assistance has been and whether it will have any significance for Afghanistan’s future independence.
Two Japanese people were strongly committed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. One is the late Ogata Sadako, who co-chaired the aforementioned 2002 Tokyo Conference as Special Representative of the Prime Minister of Japan. Ogata expressed a strong commitment to support Afghanistan while serving as head of UNHCR and during her time as President of JICA. The other is the late Dr. Nakamura Tetsu, who starting in the early 1980s worked as a doctor near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Recognizing the importance of water as indispensable to agriculture, which is a means of obtaining food to sustain life, Dr. Nakamura, as a representative of the NGO “Peshawar-kai,” strove to support the people of Afghanistan by digging wells and helping construct irrigation canals, based on his belief that “one irrigation canal will do more good than 100 doctors.”
Whether the Taliban will engage with this international community remains to be seen. As well as monitoring how this plays out, we need to pay close attention to how the international community can continue to provide support in a legitimate fashion to Afghanistan under Taliban rule in order to help it become properly independent.
MIZUNO Tetsu is a freelance writer.